Hip-Hop Hurricane Descends on the ’Sco
By Max Willens

At around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, a hulking purple tour bus slowly crept its way into an impossibly tight parking space behind Wilder Hall. That bus, along with another one, housed the members of the 2002 lineup of the Cali Comm Tour, an underground hip-hop juggernaut with all the energy of a hurricane that Oberlin would be rocked by, shocked by and loved by. And as a night marked by unrelenting energy, creativity and largely positive messages progressed, little by little, and then finally a lot by a lot, in the true spirit of hip-hop, Oberlin gave that love back.
A small white piece of paper hanging on the side of the ’Sco’s stage suggested, with its schedule of how long each act would be on, a neat and tidy affair that would be over at 12:50. Even before opening act Lifesavaz took the stage, there was doubt of that. The ’Sco was thick with people already, with more people pooling in all the time, and the instant the Portland, Ore., duo strutted on stage, the notion of a tidy, reserved show went out the window.
Demands from the MCs to the audience to throw their hands up were greeted with initial enthusiasm, but the flurry of arms got cut down little by little by audience fatigue, even as the lyricists kept their delivery sharp, their energy high, and their beats, administered by Kutmaster Kurt, energetic. The duo’s bare-basics production, positive message and high energy were met with enthusiasm each time the team ended a song, but the audience seemed to have overestimated how much they could give, and once the Lifesavaz exited, the crowd almost looked spent. More bodies seemed to shift toward the bar, and the water fountain also saw increased action.
The next act, BukueOne, was, mercifully, the hurricane’s eye — more influenced by reggae roots than by classic hip-hop in tempo, the audience enjoyed both the set’s content and its slower pace, and showed generous approval of both when he exited the stage. But the break between BukueOne and the next act, Skhoolyard, was the last the audience would be allowed all night. Skhoolyard exploded on stage, and through the beginning of their set, only a brave and athletic few could keep up with the relentless pace that MC’s Kubiq, Planet Asia, Shake da Mayor, 1201 and Supah Supreme threatened to bring the house down with.
For a while, it looked like the audience had simply been conquered by the show’s energy, but as Skhoolyard barreled into the second half of their set, a change began. At one point, the crew got a call and response going that had everybody in the audience flying up and down to the thunderous low end coming out of the speakers, and the energy stayed up from there on out. Planet Asia ensured that the crowd would stay with his crew for the rest of their set by kicking off an anthemic joint (no pun intended) whose chorus (“Roll that shit, light that shit, smoke it!”) got the loudest response of the night. And as the night’s most boisterous act left the stage after performing their single, “Fashion Show,” it was clear that the audience was tired of feeding off the performers — they were going to give something back.
Almost the second that Skhoolyard left the stage, People Under the Stairs were up and running, and the crowd was keeping up. The L.A. group had the benefit of a larger fan base than any of the two preceding acts (people had come all the way from Kent State to see them), but their mix of huge beats, uncanny turntable work and precision rhymes had the crowd at their mercy.
Thes-One even sang a little, during which lighters were raised, and a kind of hip-hop sing-along started. By this time, the number of people hiding on the sides of the stage had dropped, and nearly everyone was enjoying the show in their own way. Heads adorned with tams bobbed right along faux-hawks, Timbs stepped alongside Chucks and everyone was on the same page.
Faint glimmers of hip-hop’s separation from the exclusive, misogynistic musical flash in the pan it is often perceived as had begun to emerge from the show, but the glimmers turned to bright light almost as soon as the show’s headliner, Del the Funky Homosapien, took the stage. Dressed in a Spider-Man sweatshirt, a red do-rag, Hollywood sunglasses and rocking a variety of facial piercings, the Oakland native looked a far cry from the hip-hop superhero he was received as. But the Funky Homosapien’s almost nonstop set, which included work from his Gorillaz and Deltron 3030 projects in addition to his solo projects, was totally true to hip-hop’s cornerstones and ideals. The work was unabashedly creative, with Del using his rhymes to convey both who he was and what he believed.
As the evening drew to a close, the ’Sco looked like some kind of snapshot of a hip-hop party from the mid-’80s: inside the dimly lit, graffiti-covered walls, there were kids breaking in one corner, kids of all ages and persuasions getting down on the dance floor, doing whatever made them happy, the air above the mass of bodies thick with a canopy of shaking hands. “Y’all are representin’ the fuck outta yourselves,” Del’s sideman said with a smile. Flattering as the exaltation was, his sideman was only half-right. The audience was only proving true Shake da Mayor’s axiom. That night, the Cali Comm Tour had communicated their pure, unadulterated love of hip hop to Oberlin College. And Oberlin College was joyously communicating it back.

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